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Notes: Battle for Cards' rotation spot ongoing

@LangoschMLB
March 13, 2019

JUPITER, Fla. -- With an opportunity to further separate himself in the competition for the team’s open rotation spot, Dakota Hudson battled a high pitch count while tiptoeing around trouble in the Cardinals’ 4-1 loss to the Marlins on Wednesday. Hudson, who hadn’t walked a batter in his first three

JUPITER, Fla. -- With an opportunity to further separate himself in the competition for the team’s open rotation spot, Dakota Hudson battled a high pitch count while tiptoeing around trouble in the Cardinals’ 4-1 loss to the Marlins on Wednesday.

Hudson, who hadn’t walked a batter in his first three Grapefruit League outings (7 2/3 innings), issued three free passes to the Marlins. Among them was a walk to opposing pitcher Jose Urena. Hudson needed 69 pitches (44 strikes) to complete three innings.

“He went shorter than he would have liked or we would have liked,” manager Mike Shildt said afterward. “But he has such good stuff, doesn’t he?”

That’s why the Cardinals will continue to give Hudson a long look as a candidate to fill their rotation vacancy. He, along with John Gant, have emerged as front-runners in the competition, though Austin Gomber and Daniel Ponce de Leon are also still officially in the mix.

Gant, who pitched an inning in relief on Tuesday, will have an opportunity to throw two innings in a squad game on Thursday. Ponce de Leon will start a Grapefruit League game a day later. The Cardinals anticipate reducing the number of contenders for the final rotation spot in about a week.

“It’s the big leagues. There is always competition,” Hudson said. “I’m just trying to do my own thing. I feel like if I worry about my process then, whatever happens, I’ll be in the best position I can be in.”

From the second spot
Nearly three weeks deep into the Grapefruit League season, right fielder Dexter Fowler has not batted lower than second in the Cardinals lineup. Wednesday marked the eighth time in 10 games that he filled the No. 2 hole. In the other two instances, Fowler hit from the leadoff spot in place of Matt Carpenter.

Shildt, however, downplayed the trend, noting that batting Fowler towards the top of the lineup allows for more efficiency early in spring, when veterans only take a handful of at-bats before exiting. It is not an indication that the club has settled on Fowler opening the season as a two-hole hitter.

“We’re still in a situation where it makes sense for Dexter to get his at-bats at the top of the order, see what that looks like,” Shildt said hours before Fowler went 0-for-2 with a walk. “It’s a combination. We like him there. And also we’ll still look at some other lineups as we get closer [to Opening Day].”

Pitching plans
Brett Cecil will join Gant out on the backfields for Thursday morning’s squad game. Cecil, who was initially scheduled to appear in Wednesday’s game, reworked his program as he focuses on gaining weight and fixing his mechanics.

Adam Wainwright and Ponce de Leon are designated as the Cardinals’ starting pitchers for Friday’s split-squad games. Wainwright will draw the home start against Houston, while Ponce de Leon will go on the road, also facing the Astros.

Worth noting
• Kolten Wong was scratched from Wednesday’s lineup due to illness. Max Schrock replaced Wong at second base.

• Though no final decision has been made, Shildt acknowledged that the club is “leaning” toward opening the season with 12 pitchers. That would allow the Cardinals to carry five bench players.

• Francisco Pena continues to show improvement from the oblique injury he suffered on March 5 and is expected to return to game action this weekend.

Up next
Right-hander Michael Wacha will make his fourth start of the spring on Thursday, when the Cardinals host the Mets in a 12:05 p.m. CT game at Roger Dean Stadium. Mike Mayers and Dominic Leone, both front-runners for bullpen jobs, are scheduled to appear in relief.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.